While exiled on the island of Patmos, the apostle John received a revelation from Jesus Christ that we now call the book of Revelation. In this vision, Christ gave John seven messages for seven first-century churches in Asia Minor. Read on to discover why Christ wanted to speak to these seven churches and what the messages mean for us today. Watch and listen to these messages here.
1. EPHESUS: THE LOVELESS CHURCH (REVELATION 2:1-7)
The church of Ephesus had many positive qualities; Christ commended them in five specific ways—they were dynamic, dedicated, determined, disciplined, and discerning (Revelation 2:2-3). But verse 4 reveals where they went wrong. “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Everything about the Ephesian church looked good on the outside, but inwardly they had heart trouble. Their devotion to Christ was waning.
If you find yourself in this place with your relationship with Christ, here is a three-part formula on how to return to your first love.
“Remember therefor from where you have fallen” (Revelation 2:5).
The next logical step after remembering where we started and realizing where we are now is to repent. This means to reverse course and go in the opposite direction. “. . . repent . . .” (Revelation 2:5).
Repeating to the original good works will help you get back to the place where you began. “. . . do the first works” (Revelation 2:5). Return to what you did when you first became a Christian—the spiritual disciplines that kept you close to Christ and motivated to follow Him.
2. SMYRNA — THE SUFFERING CHURCH (REVELATION 2:8-11)
Christians in developed countries today think little about being persecuted for their faith. But there are churches in the world where such persecution is a daily reality. Such was the case for the ancient church in Smyrna. They suffered because of pressure, poverty, and persecution (Revelation 2:9). Christ’s words to that church can prepare all believers for what might come.
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer” (Revelation 2:10). Because Christ is Lord over all of life’s circumstances, we have nothing to fear. Paul wrote that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39). Fear is a natural human response, but we live supernatural lives through the power of Christ in us.
“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Given the intensity of the persecution in Smyrna, I believe Christ was saying, “Yes, you may lose your life for My sake, but be faithful until the end.”
3. PERGAMOS — THE COMPROMISING CHURCH (REVELATION 2:12-17)
Pergamos was nicknamed “Satan’s City.” The Christians in Pergamos were surrounded by pagan beliefs and practices. In spite of their faithfulness in some areas, the Christians in Pergamos had compromised their faith in others. They had allowed idolatry to creep into their congregation.
Satan is still employing the strategy he used in Pergamos: What you can’t curse and crush, you can corrupt through compromise.
Speak the Truth in Love
Christians should not be combative or antagonistic. Wherever corruption or compromise tries to gain a foothold, we need to be vigilant, sober, and on guard and speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Remember the Lesson from Pergamos
Guard against the dilution of true doctrine by false teaching and authoritarian leaders. If that makes us intolerant in the eyes of some, then so be it. Christ will commend us just as He did Antipas, His “faithful martyr.”
4. THYATIRA — THE ADULTEROUS CHURCH (REVELATION 2:18-29)
There are Christians and churches today who feel a need to be relevant and all-inclusive when it comes to spiritual and moral boundaries. The ancient church in Thyatira must have felt that way as well. This church allowed an immoral individual to lead many others away from Christ (Revelation 2:20). What does Christ say to a church that is tolerating immorality in her midst?
THE THREAT OF DISTRESS (REVELATION 2:22)
When the prophetess refused the chance to repent, Christ warned of His judgment: “Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed.” Whether taken figuratively or literally, we should take those words as a warning. God is holy and will not abide rebellion forever. As Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
The Threat of Death (Revelation 2:22-23)
This warning is not just to the prophetess but also to “those who commit adultery with her.” They would find themselves in “great tribulation” unless they repented of their immorality.
The Message to the Christians (Revelation 2:24-25)
The message for those that stood their ground and did not engage in the cult of immorality is to “Hold fast what you have till I come” (verse 25.)
The Message to the Conquerors (Revelation 2:26-29)
This is a message to those who would choose to remain faithful to Christ “until the end”. Christ promised that they would reign and they would be raptured.
5. SARDIS — THE DEAD CHURCH (REVELATION 3:1-6)
With this church there are no commendations; Christ begins immediately with a denunciation: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” The church was full of what we today would call “nominal Christians”—Christians in name only. Christ gives five specific directions for the church that is dead.
- Be Sensitive to the Inroads of Sin in the Church (verse 2)
- Be Supportive of Those Who Remain True to Christ in the Church (verses 2, 4)
- Be Submissive to the Control of the Holy Spirit in the Church (verse 3)
- Be Subject to the Authority of God’s Word in the Church (verse 3)
- Be Sorry and Repent for the Sin of the Church (verse 3)
6. PHILADELPHIA — THE FAITHFUL CHURCH (REVELATION 3:7-13)
Christ commended the church in Philadelphia for four things: they have an open door, they have a little strength, the have kept the Word of God, and they have not denied the Lord. If we want to be commended by Christ like this church, we will go through open doors of ministry, depend on His strength, and be true to Him and to His Word. What does this mean for us today?
The Potential of the Local Church
If Christ is present and the church is committed to Him, there is going to be a door of opportunity for ministry. Every church should pray for those doors to be recognized, opened, and walked through.
The People of the Local Church
Many churches today think there are too few people, there is too little money, there are too few gifts, and there are too few opportunities. Remember this simple truth: When we are weak or little, Christ is strong and big. Building the Church of Jesus Christ is not up to us. We depend on the head of the Church to give His Body the strength we need.
The Principles of the Local Church
In verse 8, Christ summarizes three principles that apply to every Church: open doors for ministry, depending on Christ’s strength, and keeping the Word of God. Being faithful to God’s Word will lead to open doors for ministry and depending on Christ’s strength since they are both taught in the Bible. When the Word of God is the first priority, everything else will fall into place.
The Priorities of the Local Church
Because the Church of Jesus Christ is His Church, we are to boldly identify with Christ regardless of the cost. We must proclaim Christ as the Bible does—the only name whereby we can be saved (Acts 4:12).
7. LAODICEA — THE LUKEWARM CHURCH (REVELATION 3:14-22)
The church in Laodicea was lacking in every way. It was a compromising, conceited, and Christless church and Christ said that it made Him sick (Revelation 3:16). Today’s Church should take note; those words may apply to us as well. We would be well advised to apply this counsel to our lives and churches today.
The Prescription for Spiritual Poverty
The Laodiceans were rich, but their riches were worldly, not spiritual. They needed spiritual wealth which can only come through Christ (Revelation 3:18).
The Prescription for Spiritual Nakedness
Nakedness in Scripture is a metaphor for defeat and humiliation, therefore Christ counsels them to procure “white garments” from Him that the shame of their nakedness might be covered (Revelation 3:18).
The Prescription for Spiritual Blindness
The only salve for spiritual blindness is repentance and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, asking Him for the fullness and wisdom of His Spirit to restore our spiritual sight.
The Prescription for Spiritual Compromise
There is only one word of counsel for the spiritually compromised: “Therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). God doesn’t love us only when we are doing the right things. He loves us all the time and He wants us to repent when we need to.
The Prescription for Their Christlessness
Christ has this to say for any without Him: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20). When Christ is moved to the margins and pushed outside the Church altogether, He stands knocking and seeking to be invited back in.